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Politics in the pew, the pew in politics

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President Bush's veto of a stem-cell research bill on religious and moral grounds is a sign of how much faith has infused US politics. In Congress, recent votes on a measure to define marriage saw many lawmakers citing God's will. Such examples raise the question: What's an appropriate mix of religion and politics?

The nation may soon find out.

The 2006 election campaign could be a test of how much this democracy tolerates political appeals to religious views. Democrats, after losing the 2004 presidential race, plan to capture more religious voters with bolder expressions of faith and moral values when talking about policy issues. They saw how the GOP rallied conservative Christians to the polls, giving a win to Mr. Bush and other Republicans. New polls indicate that Democrats may find similar electoral strength in reaching out to the "religious left."

Many voters still take notice of a candidate's religion or expressions of piety – too often negatively. A Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll in June found 10 percent of adults unwilling to vote for a Catholic as president; 15 percent wouldn't vote for a Jew; 21 percent would not favor an evangelical Christian; 37 percent would not vote for a Mormon; and 54 percent ruled out voting for a Muslim.

Before this escalating piety in politics politics goes too far and further polarizes society along religious lines, the US needs a new consensus on boundaries to prevent theological warfare. A good foundation was laid out in a June 28 speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois. In it, he calls for a serious debate about how to "reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic society."

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